Write A Narative Essay

Tips on Writing a Narrative Essay

In a narrative essay, the writer tells a story about a real-life experience. Everyone enjoys a good story—especially one that captures the imagination. However, the narrative essay goes further. In it, the writer places a personal experience within the context of a larger theme, such as a lesson learned. When writing a narrative essay, the writer wants not only to tell a good story, but also convey why the story has meaning.

The Five-Step Writing Process for Narrative Essays

At Time4Learning, we are great believers in the writing process. The writing process empowers you to write with better results by giving providing concrete, proven steps to follow. Here, we examine how to write a narrative essay using the five-step writing process. You should find the following suggestions helpful.

1. Prewriting for the Narrative Essay

The prewriting phase in narrative essay writing is particularly important. When planning how to start a narrative essay, think about your life experiences in the context of the assignment’s theme, for example ‘write about achieving a goal.’ When selecting an experience to write about, keep in mind that even a small incident (or goal, in this case) can make a good essay topic if it has significance for you. If writers feel an emotional connection to their topic, their narrative essay will be more effective.

Once you’ve chosen a topic, spend time sorting through your memories and recalling details, including the year, season, setting, people, and objects involved. Think about the sequence of events and remember; no detail is too small. Often it’s the small details that communicate big ideas! Creating an outline of the story’s narrative flow is very helpful.

2. Drafting a Narrative Essay

When creating the initial draft of a narrative essay, follow the outline, but focus on making the story come alive, using the following techniques:

  • Personal narrative essays are most naturally written in the first person, and using “I” gives the story an immediacy that engages the reader.
  • In telling the story, don’t gloss over the details. Readers have no prior knowledge of the story, and many times even one detail accidentally left out will skew their understanding.
  • Use vivid descriptions and words that illustrate. In narrative writing, the writer’s job is to involve the reader, rather than simply inform. Take a look at this sentence: “Losing the game felt like the bottom of my world dropped out.” It conveys so much more about the significance of the writer’s experience than simply saying, “I was disappointed that we lost the game.”
  • While narrative essays are non-fiction, elements of fiction should not be ignored. True stories also benefit from the writer’s ability to use plot-building techniques.

3. Revising a Narrative Essay

In the revision phase, students review, modify, and reorganize their work with the goal of making it the best it can be. In revising a narrative essay, students should reread their work with these considerations in mind:

  • Does the essay unfold in an easy-to-understand progression of events? Do the transitions make sense or confuse the reader?
  • Does the essay involve the reader in the experience? Could there be more detail, or is there extraneous detail that distracts the reader’s attention?
  • Is the word choice descriptive, or merely informative?
  • Has the larger message of the essay been conveyed effectively? Has a connection been made between the experience and its meaning to the writer? Will the reader be able to identify with the conclusion made?

In structuring a narrative essay, it’s the writer’s choice when to reveal the significance of the experience. Some writers make this connection to theme in the opening paragraph. Others like to focus on the experience and reveal its significance at the end. Writers should experiment which way works best for the essay. Clueing in the reader upfront helps their understanding, but saving the revelation to the end can leave the reader with more to think about.

4. Editing a Narrative Essay

At this point in the writing process, writers proofread and correct errors in grammar and mechanics, and edit to improve style and clarity. Having a friend read the essay is a good idea at this point, and allows the writer to see their work from a fresh perspective.

5. Publishing a Narrative Essay

Due to its personal nature, sharing a narrative essay with the rest of the class or even with friends and family can be both exciting and a bit scary. Remember, there isn’t a writer on earth who isn’t sensitive about his or her own work. The important thing is to learn from the experience and use the feedback to make the next essay even better.

Time4Writing Teaches Narrative Essay Writing

Time4Writing essay writing courses offer a highly effective way to learn how to write the types of essays required for school, standardized tests, and college applications. A unique online writing program for elementary, middle school, and high school students, Time4Writing breaks down the writing process into manageable chunks, easily digested by young writers. Students steadily build writing skills and confidence, guided by one-on-one instruction with a dedicated, certified teacher.

At the elementary level, Time4Writing has a dedicated 8-week Narrative Writing Course that walks beginning essay writers through every step of the writing process to make sure that mastery is complete. Our middle school Welcome to the Essay and Advanced Essay courses teach students the fundamentals of writing well-constructed essays, including the narrative essay. The high school Exciting Essay Writing course focuses in depth on the essay writing process with the goal of preparation for college. The courses also cover how to interpret essay writing prompts in testing situations. Read what parents are saying about their children’s writing progress in Time4Writing courses.


So, your professor just gave you a new assignment, and it looks like an interesting topic. The problem is you don’t know how to write a narrative essay.

Relax (but don’t procrastinate)! Narrative essays are actually pretty fun to write. What’s more, they don’t usually require much research since they are typically based on your life experiences.

All that said, there are some important rules to follow. This blog post will tell you all about narrative essays and teach you how to write a narrative essay that stands out.

What Is a Narrative Essay?

Narration is writing that tells a story. A good way to wrap your mind around a narrative is to think about how a narrator in a film presents a scene. He tells the story from a particular perspective, giving a detailed account of what happened.

Consider the narration in this clip from How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

So, how is the narrator’s recounting of the Grinch’s failure to steal Christmas related to learning how to write a narrative essay?

As the narrator in your essay, you set the scene and tell the story from your viewpoint, giving a detailed report of events.

Chances are, you narrate stories every day. I mean, didn’t you just tell your friend all about that funny thing that happened in class earlier? You know how to narrate. So, writing a narrative essay should be easy, right?

Well, hold on, it’s not that simple. One of the challenges with writing narrative essays is that you often have to distill a complex story into a limited (and to-the-point) number of words. At the same time, you have to garner enough interest to keep the reader engaged in your story.

Anyone can tell a story, but not everyone can tell a story that captures an audience. It’s important to keep some rules in mind as you learn how to write a narrative essay.

Sample Narrative Essay

The best way to learn how to write a narrative essay is to see an example. I’m going to pretend that I’m the character Rudy (from the 1993 film Rudy), and I’m going to write a narrative essay about something that happened in my (Rudy’s) life.

First, watch this clip from the film:

Now, I will write a sample narrative essay, as if this clip were based on my experience. Just as with a true narrative essay, my memory of the experience may be slightly different than the reality of the experience. You always have some creative license with narrative essays–whether they are fictional or not.

Read this sample essay first, and then I’ll break it down into its elements:

     A janitor changed my life. I was at a low point, ready to quit everything–even when I had it all. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. At 5 foot nothing, 100 and nothing pounds, I was hardly your typical football player. But, that didn’t stop me from believing that I could play for Notre Dame. It turns out, the most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.

After two years of trying hard to prove that I was worthy of playing, I found out that I hadn’t made the dress list for our kickoff game.After fighting to be on the team and sweating through every practice, I was going to sit on the bench…again.

So, I decided to call it quits. Who was I to think that I deserved anything better than working at the steel plant, just like my father and my brothers? If that life was good enough for them, why wasn’t it good enough for me?

As I stood there in section five, staring out at the empty stadium, I thought of how proud my dad would have been to see me out there on the field playing for the team we both loved so much. I felt so stupid. I wasn’t a football player. I was a bench warmer… nothing more. That’s when the team janitor found me standing there.

“Hey,” he said. “Don’t you have to be at practice?”

“Not anymore,” I said, annoyed. “I quit.”

“Why’d you quit? You don’t seem like the quitting type.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just don’t see the point anymore.”

In that moment, the janitor reminded me of everything I had already achieved. Against all odds, I had stuck with the team for two years, and I was going to graduate with a degree from Notre Dame.

What he said next drove his point home. He said, “In this lifetime, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody except yourself.”

He had a point. I had already proven myself to everyone except for me. If I didn’t believe in myself… who would ever believe in me? Thanks to the janitor’s wisdom, I eventually played my first–and only–game that season, and I proved to myself that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

Okay, now let’s pick this thing apart. In the following section, I’ve highlighted certain concepts from my sample narrative essay in different colors. Their explanations follow.

First Paragraph:

A janitor changed my life.I was at a low point, ready to quit everything–even when I had it all. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. At 5 foot nothing, 100 and nothing pounds, I was hardly your typical football player. But, that didn’t stop me from believing that I could play for Notre Dame. It turns out, the most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.

Let’s break it down.

  • Start with a strong hook. Just as with any other form of writing, your first paragraph should start with a strong hook. The sentence, “a janitor changed my life,” sets up the story with a bold statement meant to capture the attention of my readers. The goal is to make readers ask, “How did a janitor change your life? What happened?”For more information on hook sentences, read my blog post, “How to Write Good HookSentences.”
  • Set the scene. In this section of my first paragraph, I set the scene. I give the reader some context for my story (I was at a low point. I was a struggling football player for Notre Dame… etc.).
  • Define the purpose. Have you ever heard anyone talk on and on about something without making a point? This is a common trap for writers attempting a narrative essay. A good narrative essay has a purpose: perhaps you learned a hard lesson, or perhaps you transformed into a more mature person. Whatever the case, that purpose should be stated in the first paragraph. In the example narrative, my purpose is to make the point that “the most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.”

As you can see, the first paragraph is critical to setting up a good story. Now, let’s talk about what goes on in your body paragraphs.

Body Paragraphs:

After two years of trying hard to prove that I was worthy of playing, I found out that I hadn’t made the dress list for our kickoff game. After fighting to be on the team and sweating through every practice, I was going to sit on the bench…again. So, I decided to call it quits. Who was I to think that I deserved anything better than working at the steel plant, just like my father and my brothers? If that life was good enough for them, why wasn’t it good enough for me?
      As I stood there in section five, staring out at the empty stadium, I thought of how proud my dad would have been to see me out there on the field playing for the team we both loved so much. I felt so stupid. I wasn’t a football player. I was a bench warmer… nothing more. That’s when the team janitor found me standing there.
      “Hey,” he said. “Don’t you have to be at practice?”
      “Not anymore,” I said,annoyed. “I quit.”
“Why’d you quit? You don’t seem like the quitting type.”
      “I don’t know,” I said. “I just don’t see the point anymore.”
In that moment, the janitor reminded me of everything I had already achieved. Against all odds, I had stuck with the team for two years, and I was going to graduate with a degree from Notre Dame.
      What he said next drove his point home. He said, “In this lifetime, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody except yourself.”

Let’s break it down.

  • Use vivid and appropriate detail. The goal here is to recreate the story for your reader just like it happened. Make the story vivid and full of detail. Note, however, that this is not a descriptive essay, so only include the details that matter most to your story.
  • Use dialogue. Sometimes, a great story can’t be told without dialogue. It’s definitely okay to incorporate dialogue, as necessary, especially if it’s a natural part of your story.In my sample essay, the conversation with the janitor is critical to the story, so including the dialogue from this interaction is appropriate.
  • Write chronologically. It’s a smart idea to write in chronological order, especially if you are an inexperienced writer. What happened first, next, and last?This will help you to stay true to your story and not wander. In this sample, I focus on the sequence of events that led me to my moment of truth, how the janitor talked me into staying on the team, and how this changed my perspective on life.
  • Maintain consistency in narration. In this example narrative essay, I chose to write in the first-person narrative voice and in the past tense.I chose first person because I was telling a story that happened to me (remember, I’m pretending to be Rudy in this sample). I chose past tense because I’m telling a story that happened in the past.Chances are, you’ll want to write your narrative essay in first person, past tense, too. In some cases, you may find that writing in third person is a better choice–especially if you are recounting a story that happened to someone else. But, whatever you choose, keep it consistent throughout.

Okay! Let’s move on to the last paragraph.

Closing Paragraph:

He had a point. I had already proven myself to everyone except for me. If I didn’t believe in myself… who would ever believe in me? Thanks to the janitor’s wisdom, I eventually played my first–and only–game that season, and I proved to myself that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

Let’s break it down.

  • Restate your purpose. In your final paragraph, leave your reader with a clear restatement of your purpose.Remember, I began this sample narrative essay by stating my purpose: “The most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.” In the final paragraph, I closed with a restatement of this same point: “I proved to myself that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.”

Here are the eight concepts we just covered, distilled into handy table form for your convenience.

Final Thoughts on How to Write a Narrative Essay

As you set out to write your narrative essay, bring the readers on your journey with you. Give them a reason to listen to your story.

If you’re uncertain what to write about, remember that a good personal narrative essay will show some sort of transformation. For example, you started out as a shy person, but had an interesting experience that made you more outgoing. Find a story of transformation, and then write about what happened.

If you need more ideas, check out these example narrative essays.

Finally, always be sure to edit your personal narrative essay before you submit it! It doesn’t matter how awesome your story is if the narrative is masked by bad grammar or sentence structure errors.

Good luck!

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